This will be my third year of signing up for National Novel Writing Month. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a project started in 1999 by freelance writer Chris Baty in which writers of all stripes and experience commit to writing 50,000 words in the month of November. (It has since branched out to include pushes in other months, like “Camp NaNoWriMo” in April and July). The average young adult novel is 60,000-80,000, so, conceivably, full participation in NaNoWriMo could yield nearly a full first draft of a YA novel and get you well on your way to the usually longer adult novel. Finishing the full 50,000 words is called “winning.”
I have never “won” NaNoWriMo.
By the standard definitions of the word, that would seem to suggest I have “lost” at NaNoWriMo, especially if you’re an all-or-nothing perfectionist the way I am. So why keep coming back for more? Here’s why to participate in NaNoWriMo even if you’re a plodding writer, have a full-time job or an infant or are otherwise pretty sure you will get nowhere near 50,000 words in a month:
Camaraderie. Writing is a lonely endeavor. Or so it has always felt to me. But NaNo attracts oodles of writers and would-be writers and gets them all talking about (you guessed it) writing. One need only look up the hashtag #amwriting or #NaNoWriMo to find other people engaged in the same quest you’re on. Not only do they talk about how much they’re writing, they also talk about their challenges and how to overcome them. If you don’t let the #amwriting crowd get you down with unworthiness and envy, you can actually get a lot of inspiration from them. I’m a big fan in particular of the #NaNo #wordsprints.
Creating a routine. While many of us want to imagine writers are magical, insightful beings who are kissed by the horn of the unicorn muse every morning, writing really is a lot more about slogging through. Part of what makes that easier is creating a writing routine. Of necessity, that is what NaNo creates… the habit of writing every day.
Practicing dismantling perfectionism. Perfectionism has been the single most crippling thing in my quest to be a prolific writer. I have the ideas and I have the ability to write fast, but not being able to get it perfect the first time around often makes me not want to even open the document. But producing that level of work – an average of 1,666 words a day – makes it impossible to write perfectly (pro tip: do NOT send a query to an agent in December saying, “Here is my freshly completed NaNo novel.” Publishable writing takes editing, feedback and time. NaNo is only about creating the bulk of a first draft, not a finished product). NaNo is a great opportunity to practice letting go of the quest to be perfect.
Practicing ignoring social media. Wait, didn’t I just tell you that the #amwriting hashtag is your friend? Yes, it can be, or it can be your enemy. The month of NaNo is a concentrated time during which you can play out all your writing challenges. If writer-envy is one of them, this is a perfect time to just put your nose to the grindstone and do your work without comparing it to others. Sure, some people have cranked through 20,000 in the first week. But lots of other people are sitting at home wishing they could start. Wherever you are, there is where you’re supposed to be. Start there and don’t compare yourself to others.
Uncovering tools that work for increased productivity. Another great benefit of the hub of activity that is NaNoWriMo is that writers are talking about the tools that help them stay productive. Worried that social media will distract you? There’s an app for that. (Like the StayFocused plugin for Chrome or Cold Turkey, both of which block websites for a certain amount of time). Having trouble organizing your chapters? Try Scrivener. These and many other tools will be discussed and rated among writers during the month of November. Take notes! Even if you don’t get into the swing of using all of them to produce an entire novel in November, just trying out new ways of staying productive will help you on your writing journey.
So… thinking of participating in National Novel Writing Month but afraid you won’t “win”? Don’t be. Winning is defined however you choose to define it. For some it will be defined by writing 50,000 words. For others (like me) it will be defined by coming to the page and trying yet again and by the friends and discoveries you will make along the way. You will never regret the words written, whether they range from 10 to 50,000. So join us, the dreamers and the hopeful. The writers.